Monday, June 18, 2007

United States – Race Analysis

After the safety car showdown in Canada, we finally got a proper F1 race in North America. The clever track layout allows for some overtaking manoeuvres, mainly going into turn 1. This is what we saw yesterday, a very nicely fought race, especially for positions 5 and below. The top four positions seem to belong to the two silver and the two red cars. Besides Kimi Raikkonen’s bad start, it seems like McLaren and Ferrari are still in a league of their own, with the obvious advantage going for McLaren. Hamilton won, but it could have been Alonso had the starting positions been the other way around. At least we had some fight for first place, although it required the backmarkers’ presence to set up the moment. Formula One may have improved, but with such aerodynamically dependent cars, closely matched cars still cannot fight for position, as the pursuer loses too much downforce around the corners.

Two in a row for Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton won his second race in a row. More than that, he won two races this season, same as Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. Since he is more consistent than the other 2-time race winners, he truly deserves to be leading the championship.

My biggest complain about Hamilton is not exactly about his results. It is that I have not been able to accurately tell if he is ‘only’ a great driver or a genius. Not that he cares about it. He certainly knows his limitations, but he is not going to tell everybody about them. I just wish I knew... I am pretty sure that he is a great driver, but there were not enough chances for me to confirm if he is a genius. Besides some great starts, he did not have to overtake anyone.

Most of the races were pretty straightforward for Lewis. Yesterday, at least, he had to fight with Alonso. And he did not disappoint me at all. After making a minor mistake in turn 9, he knew how to hold his position at the end of the frontstretch, breaking at the exact point he was supposed to, following the perfect line at the corner exit, leaving no chance for Alonso. However, it seems to me that if Alonso were in first place he would hold Hamilton behind the same way. Alonso even seemed faster – he just could not follow closely due to the loss of downforce and the car overheating that comes from drafting closely. Therefore, I cannot confirm if Hamilton is genius. Maybe he is ‘just’ a great driver.

I am almost hoping that at one point Hamilton hits trouble in qualifying so that he starts on the back of the grid. Or maybe it will rain during a race, so I can see if he’s got that natural talent that only geniuses have. And just to make sure, I also want to see in F1 the only other driver who I think was able to match Hamilton’s speed in the access series: Nelson Piquet Jr.

A better Alonso makes an even stronger McLaren

Fernando Alonso may have lost a race, but mentally he became stronger. The fact that he complimented Hamilton twice – after crossing the finish line and on the podium – shows that he is not going to keep complaining as much as he did this week. He lost, yet he knows that he could have won. He knows that the difference was in qualifying and that he can beat Hamilton. More than that, he knows now that McLaren will always give them equally matched cars, because this is what they got yesterday. If he wins or loses to Hamilton, it will mean one thing: the better one has won.

My praises go to Ron Dennis. McLaren is so well managed that it makes me believe that Ron would do well at any other kind of business. The way he manages the team is just beautiful. It was beautiful during the Prost-Senna era. It is beautiful at the current Alonso-Hamilton period. Dennis has certainly done his job in calming down Alonso, in order to make sure that the current period will also become an era in the history of F1.

Ferrari finally got something from Raikkonen

After being beaten on the track by Felipe Massa throughout the season, Kimi Raikkonen was finally able to match his teammate’s performance. He was again on the wrong end of the results, as he was 4th just behind Felipe. At least he pushed hard and showed us two things: 1) he has changed his driving style and is finally adapting to the Bridgestone tyres; 2) what we saw today was the most the Ferrari could do.

Felipe Massa was not brilliant, but he got the most that he could from today’s race. If he had driven with the same mentality in Malaysia, the championship gap would be much closer than the 19 points he has less than Hamilton. He is stronger this year, but of course he still lacks something to become a Michael Schumacher. He is still improving, though, so maybe one day he will be a seven-time world champion. Maybe not. Seriously, though, he has what it takes to be as good as anyone I have ever seen. The natural talent is there. It is just a matter of improving his mental state. And also getting a race-winning car, something Ferrari is not providing at this time.

United States’ quick notes

- Adrian Sutil drove a fantastic race – for a Spyker, that is. After starting 21st, he avoided the first corner melee and managed to drive as high as 12th. In the end, he finished 14th, just ahead of teammate Christijan Albers. But he certainly drove a lot better than Albers, the final results just do not show it.

- I do not know what Ralf Schumacher thought he could do by breaking deep into the first corner. He is being badly beaten by his teammate Jarno Trulli this season, the least he could do was to finish the race. Since Jarno finished 6th, including a nice fight with Mark Webber, I believe Ralf is about to lose his job. My bet is that he will not be driving for Toyota by the end of the year.

- Takuma Sato was about to do one of his memorable races, overtaking many opponents as he was recovering after starting only 18th. Then his car understeered, he drove wide, hit the grass with both left wheels, then oversteered and spun out of the race. One week he is great, the other he is a shame. Either way, he is just a poor man’s Nigel Mansell.

- Since the difference between prime and option tyres was not very large, many drivers tried a one-stop strategy. Among these, Nico Rosberg was the one who had the best chance of finishing in the points, but he left the race in anger as his engine gave up and caught fire.

- BMW had a strong race with rookie Sebastian Vettel, who became the youngest ever driver to score points as he finished 8th. By the end of the day, however, they had a bitter taste in their mouths because Heidfeld had gearbox problems – once again.

- Heikki Kovalainen is finally showing what he is all about by finishing a strong 5th. Although Giancarlo Fisichella finished 9th with the other Renault, his race also shows some improvements for the team. He spun and drove through the gravel in the second lap of the race and came from the back of the pack, overtaking many drivers in the process.

Star of the race:

Lewis Hamilton. No one did more than what they were supposed to do, so the award goes to the race winner. The way he held back Alonso is the exclamation point needed for winning my award.

Shame of the race:

Ralf Schumacher.

--Andre N.

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